Sunday, March 31, 2013

Reply to Comments and Questions on NCN

In response to this NewCastleNOW article and the comments below that article.  This is the unedited version from before I tried to get it into one 2000 character comment box.  

Usual disclaimers apply.  I do not speak for the Board of Ed.  I speak only for myself. This is not a district statement either.  Shake well before using.  Refrigerate after opening.  Your mileage may vary.

To C-O-N-T-R-O-L:  I can think of many reasons both positive and negative why we would want questions asked privately.  But, I think it is safe to say that whenever the Board or Administration replies to an email, it assumes that that email can and will be made public.  I do.

I do not agree with your assumption that it makes our job a lot easier if people don't hear each other's criticisms. That is only the case if you also assume our job is to ignore the public.  While I recognize that some people think that, I view our job as actually the opposite of that.  While I don't think we should just be a weather vane twisting in the wind with the latest opinion, I do think that we are elected as fiduciaries to the community and as such have an obligation to listen to what the community has to say which by the way can include complements.   If you read the post on my blog about deciding to run or not, I address this there.

I think it is also important for the community to know that the Board is not always in a 5-0 agreement on how to do things, but we do act as a consensus Board.  In general, after a consensus of the Board is taken, the President of the Board will fashion a response that reflects that consensus.  Whether I support that consensus response, I will always support that this is a majority rules Board and that the President has certain power/authority/obligation to respond in a way that (s)he sees fit within the consensus.

As for the last meeting and the timing of the two statements, I can tell you there was nothing Machiavellian about them. After almost 6 years on the Board, I can tell you that the announcement about the administrator's contract was put first, for two reasons.  One, it was not on the agenda anywhere because of the timing of the agreement with the Board (not agreed upon until after the agenda was made.  Agendas are generally set on the Thursday or Friday prior to the next meeting.) so it was put first, and, two, it was good news for the community in terms of the budget impact.  The meeting was primarily focused on the budget. Hence, put the budget item first.

The so called Tim Bloom response was not purposely moved to 11:00 pm or later in the meeting so no one would hear it.  First, Tim never wrote directly to the Board.  He wrote to the administration and published it here on NCN.  So, it was a little confusing as to who the Board would actually be responding to.  In the end, we were responding to the community in general, but we never got one direct piece of correspondence from anyone in the community about it. Writing anonymous comments on an internet blog is a very inefficient way to communicate with the Board.  (Any Board.)

Second, there are few people attending the meetings.  Most watch it on replay or on NCMCTV online.  Anyone could fast forward to find the portion they are looking for.  Third, it was on the agenda in the Superintendent's and President's report. Ironically enough, it comes later in the meeting because we moved the presentations to the beginning of the meetings so that the public could come to watch that and not have to wait until the end.  When I first got on the Board and prior to that, the business section came first and then the presentations.  We got criticized for that and changed it.

Legally, we are required to have an agenda.  It makes sense to stick to it as much as possible as we are also required to publish it in advance.  Some have suggested that we start earlier.  We have considered that.  I for one, would love to get home before midnight on a meeting night.  But, there were other considerations and other points of view.  In the past, we had a lot of feedback that starting earlier would make it particularly difficult for those with students in elementary and middle school to attend.  Between dinner and bedtime, starting at 7:00 or 7:30 would be a hardship for many.

One of the interesting things that happened at the last meeting is relevant here.  I am not sure how many people noticed it, but we received an email with several questions from a resident who was unable to attend the meeting.  President Tipp actually read the questions during the appropriate part of the presentation.  It is certainly a way to ask a question while not having the pressure or whatever of coming to the microphone.  I will sometimes email questions to the presenters in advance so that they are prepared to answer them publicly. I don't think it is fair to the public when someone says they will get back to you on that.  Then the response is not on the record.  Feel free to email the Board with questions you might have in advance.  If you send it to the President and/or all the Board members, I think the President would be more than happy to represent your questions at the appropriate time.

On a slightly similar note, Christine has been prodding the Board for several years to make its meetings live.  One of her concepts with having it live would be to have the ability for someone watching at home to ask a question maybe through email or a text or something. It is certainly something to be considered, although I have never seen it in practice.  I have suggested to Christine that I would be willing to do a live online forum answering questions.  I envisioned it something along the lines of a Reddit Ask Me Anything.  If I decide to run for a third term, I would definitely be willing to answer any question I legally could on any subject.

I think this Board has gotten an undeserved reputation by some of the anonymous commenters here on NCN as a closed Board.  Nothing is farther from the truth.  We have gone out of our way to be as transparent and forthright as we can.  Some items, particularly personnel and legal items, we are precluded from speaking about publicly.  It is frustrating to us too when we cannot speak about something we would want to otherwise.

Yes, we have a three minute stated limit on questions.  However, I can only remember two times where we actually imposed that limit and with those two times, we simply told the person they could ask additional questions after those who have not had a chance to ask any question yet already did so. Quite frankly, if you cannot ask one or two questions in three minutes time, then you are making a speech. I cannot think of anyone who has not had a chance to ask their question or make a comment at one of our meetings.

Do we get defensive at times? Sure, we are human.  We are also volunteers.  We are trying to do our best.  Really.  I recognize that we will not always be universally applauded for some of our decisions.  There are many issues where the community itself is divided.  I personally get frustrated when people think because we do not agree with them or do not take a certain course of action they support that we don't listen.  We listen, we deliberate, we consider ramifications and we decide.

I just want to make one more point about anonymous comments.  I get why some who make comments wish to remain anonymous.  It can be scary criticizing teachers or administrators when your child is in school. There is one school of thought that your child could be subject to retaliation.  Believe me when I tell you that I considered it myself when I speak out or when we negotiate, etc.  While it is a concern, I know the leadership of all the unions well.  I know many of the teachers in the district personally.  I give them more credit than thinking they would even dream of retaliation.  They are professionals dedicated to teaching.  It is just not something that would enter the mind of the staff.

I personally don't mind criticism.  I do mind personal attacks.  Question my thought process, question my vote, question my decisions, but don't question my integrity, don't call me names, don't make statements you know to be false or ones you don't know to be true.

I oppose anonymous comments.  I think using your name leads to a more civilized dialogue.  I think using your name gives your comment more credibility.  I get that some people want to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, but I don't condone it.

Finally, I wish the community would recognize that we are volunteers trying to do our best.  We don't get paid, we don't have any perks that I am aware of, and we don't get benefits.  We do spend a lot of time, we do work hard. and we do want to engage the public.  If it was such a great job, more people would be trying to do it.  It is a rewarding job if you care about education, care about the students and care to serve your community.  A wise former board member told me on the way out the door, that it is only a thankless job if you are expecting thanks.  I am not.

Edit: Feel free to post a comment here on my blog. I will reply to all that ask a question or ask for a reply.

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